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How South Australia became a renewable energy dynamo in just 15 years

South Australia shifted from fossil fuels to 60% renewable energy in less than 20 years. This achievement stands out against the backdrop

By Ground Report
New Update
How South Australia became a green energy dynamo in just 15 years

South Australia shifted from fossil fuels to 60% renewable energy in less than 20 years. This achievement stands out against the backdrop of national climate policy stagnation, raising the question: how did South Australia succeed where others struggled?

Our extensive research aimed to uncover the answers. We pored over policy documents and conducted interviews with key players in South Australia's energy revolution. The results offered valuable insights into what enabled their success while many similar endeavours faltered.

Ingredients for Successful Transition

One essential ingredient emerged: political power. Governments must possess the strength to enact changes despite opposition from entrenched fossil fuel interests. Vigilant monitoring of the energy market is also paramount to preventing and addressing major disruptions, like the closure of coal plants, and providing support for the workers and communities impacted by the transformation.

Photo Credit: American Public Power Association/Unsplash

South Australia's journey showcases how effective public policy can drive substantial reductions in emissions, even in privately owned energy systems. This journey is a playbook from which governments worldwide can glean invaluable lessons, particularly in Australia.

Navigating the rocky road of energy Transition

Transitioning away from fossil fuel-dominated energy markets is difficult, as these markets were historically controlled by a few dominant players, causing challenges when attempting to disrupt the established interests and distribute gains to newer entrants, resulting in vocal opposition.

The task becomes even more daunting in a privatized energy market like South Australia's, where profitability is crucial for survival. Fossil fuel businesses can falter quickly in the face of renewable advancements, potentially triggering supply shortages and price hikes.

This explains why nations like Australia, with vast renewable resources, have struggled to fully embrace clean energy potential. Even environmental policy leaders like Germany have grappled with this shift.

South Australian Blueprint

South Australia's vulnerability to climate change and its wealth of wind and solar resources provided the impetus and means for its shift. In 2002, the South Australian Labor government set a target of achieving 26% renewables generation by 2020. Europe's burgeoning wind industry, already a competitive supplier of new generation capacity, aligned with South Australia's wind-rich landscapes.

Photo Credit: American Public Power Association/Unsplash

The federal renewable energy target, established in 2001 and expanded under subsequent governments, aided the transition. Consequently, the South Australian government didn't need to provide incentives but only had to attract private investors, which was easily accomplished because of the state's consistent energy and environment policies.

The government facilitated wind farm construction in rural areas through laws that steered clear of towns and residences. State contracts regularly underpinned new wind farms, while the gradual scaling down and eventual closure of Port Augusta's largest coal generator accompanied state support for alternative employment opportunities.

Steering through challenges

South Australia's path wasn't devoid of controversies. A surge in consumer electricity prices between 2014 and 2018 sparked debates, often blaming renewables, although factors like costly gas power and coal plant closures played a role.

In 2016, a statewide blackout triggered claims against renewables, even though storm damage and sensitive trip switches were the true culprits.

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